Tensions remained high in Tamil Nadu’s Tuticorin Wednesday evening as video clips emerged purportedly of police beating a protester, who died later in the afternoon, and personnel taking aim and firing the previous day at hundreds protesting against the local expansion plans of Sterlite Copper owned by the Vedanta group.
The beating of a 22-year-old man, identified as Kaliappan, was purportedly captured on camera by a mediaperson. Visuals show the youth lying on the road with a group of policemen beating him and purportedly asking him to “stop acting” and get up. Officials later confirmed that the youth had died, raising the death toll in the protests to 12.
Relatives of those killed Tuesday, meanwhile, refused to claim the bodies, saying they would do so only after the copper smelter was shut and murder charges registered against those involved in the firing.
Police said they were probing the role of a radical Left organisation in the protests and added that they had shifted their own personnel, whose faces are visible in the video clips being circulated, and their families out of the city.
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A statement issued by Chief Minister E K Palaniswami Tuesday evening cited nine deaths while the condolence message to victims from the Governor’s office said there were 11 deaths. Sources in Tuticorin General Hospital said there were 12 bodies in the mortuary, including that of Kaliappan. At least nine others are in critical condition, doctors said.
DMK leader M K Stalin, actor-politician Kamal Haasan, MDMK leader Vaiko and senior Opposition leaders were among those who visited the hospital Wednesday to meet the injured.
Official sources said Kaliappan was killed after a group of protesters started pelting stones at the vehicle of SP P Mahendran around noon, leading to a lathicharge and firing of rubber bullets by police. An hour later, they said, visuals of the beating went viral on social media, alerting Kaliappan’s family and friends who rushed to the general hospital.
A tense silence prevailed across town as roads remained littered with broken glass from the windshields of vehicles, and shops stayed shut.
Officials identified some of the victims from Tuesday’s firing as Tamilarasan, 40; Shanmugam, 25; Gladston, 40; Maniraj, 34; and Vensita, a 16-year-old school student. Officials said Gladston was a fisherman while Tamilarasan belonged to a local organisation called Victorious Youths’ Front. Maniraj was part of the protests that marked 100 days Tuesday.
Roads leading to villages of the victims were inaccessible for the police and media, with residents deciding to block them until their demands were met.
Speaking to The Indian Express, a close relative of a victim said the deceased’s brother was taken in custody by police Wednesday afternoon “for giving a red salute to the body in the mortuary”.
The police are probing the role in the violence of People’s Rights Protection Centre (PRPC), a local collective that has been part of protests against the copper smelter over pollution fears, and its links to Makkal Adhikaram, a radical Left organisation under the watch of state intelligence.
Office-bearers of PRPC have claimed that over 100 youths are still in police custody, and at least 15 of them have suffered fractures on hands and legs.